Jessica Brousseau – Bike mechanic, pro wheel builder and free spirit living the #vanlife

by 2

I’ve recently spent some time in British Columbia on a press launch, courtesy of Liv Bikes. From the moment I stepped foot outside the airport, I’ve been overwhelmed with beauty. Driving through Vancouver and seeing the landscape change from a bright, vibrant city to a park full of bikes, wildlife and empty space within a 10 minute walk of the centre is a good hint of things to come. Imagine Cumbria being in close proximity to the centre of London, only London is clean and full of super friendly people who genuinely hope for everyone around them to have a great day? A bit like that, only on a much larger scale.

Not a bad way to commute.

As we left the city, the landscape opened up. Fjords next to the highway, mountains as far as your eye can see. You know when you have a clear night sky with no light pollution, and if you find an empty spot in the sky, and eventually your eyes find a star there? Well looking at the horizon and waiting a moment would reveal more mountains. I didn’t expect to come to Canada and fall in love with a road.

The view from my hotel room – Spot the RV.

Arriving in Squamish, everything became a lot greener and a lot more dense. The forests are thick, and at ground level you can barely see into them for all the berry bushes. A gap in the greenery revealed our hotel. We were presented with the new bike this launch was all about, promptly given our own, and instructed to take it outside to the mechanic to get the suspension setup. Under the purple marquis stands a girl I’d have placed in her early twenties, with purple hair to match the Liv branding. This is Jessica Brousseau – working on a freelance basis for the launch. After all, Liv pride themselves on building bikes By Women, For Women. It’s a nice touch, and I take my bike over to get setup.

Happy in her work.

Over the course of the three days, I learn that Jessica is in fact a full time bike mechanic. She also teaches bike mechanics. She’s a fully qualified pro wheel builder (She’s actually thirty five years old) and lives out of a van. So now I’m intrigued. This girl, with her intoxicating French Canadian accent, a smile permanently planted on her face, and a contagious carefree attitude, is living a lifestyle people can only dream of. A lifestyle you see on Instagram and think ‘I bet it’s not so magical. It must be stressful cramming your whole world into a van’. But given the fact she could easily pass for fifteen years younger than she is, it can’t be too stressful, eh?

‘Baba’

So, I took the opportunity to get the know her and share her experience with you all. In turn, she has made me realise you don’t need to plan everything, you don’t need to know what you’ll be doing next weekend, where you’re going to eat after that bike ride, you don’t even need to know where you’re going to ride. Just set off.

Where were you born?

I was born in Montreal, Quebec.

What prompted you to live the van life?

A big change in my life – I found out I couldn’t have kids, found out at the age of thirty. That was really hard, it took me about two to three years to get over it but I needed to move on with my life, so I switched it all around. Sold my house, I had five  foster children when I had it. They went to other foster homes. I told my mom ‘I’m gonna come live with you’, she lives in Vancouver. She didn’t mind me going to live with her, but I was thirty one at this point and she knew I wasn’t going to be happy. ‘You’re coming out of something very difficult and you’re going to go back to living with your mom. It’s not going to be fun’, so she was rushing me into buying a van. She was following someone on YouTube thats been doing it for a long time and she believed that I would love it. It took her three months to convince me to find a van!

Kind of makes you wonder if you need all the stuff you own…

Have you got a place that you settle, or regularly park up at?

Never. Nope. Most houses in Vancouver are worth about a million bucks so they get really mad if you park in front of their house! So I move all the time, to respect the space I take. I don’t want people to get upset, I don’t want to have that negative impact in my life, so I move every couple of days.

Have you ever had a problem where you’ve parked up?

To start I thought it was fine to have the van in one spot for a long time, so I had notes left on my dashboard saying I’m taking their place in front of their house, so I began to move more and had no more problems.

Souvenir from Hawaii. She only ever gets something small, understandably.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your lifestyle?

My independence. You know, I work hard, people might not think I do but I work really really hard, I make enough money to rent but, at the end of the day if I rented here I’d not have much money to have fun. I couldn’t afford a car, it will all go on rent, so yeah just being independent, being free to go anywhere, I get to meet awesome people like you, people all around, I’m always free. I can discover things! Before {I had the van} I couldn’t, I was stuck in one spot. Wake up, work, go to sleep. Always the same, everyday, and I was always negative. Every time I said something it would be negative, but now it’s all positive, I’m care free!

My first year in the van was when I found myself, you know, before I was just a working person, I just worked like a zombie and I wasn’t happy. But after a year here, one day I was just sitting down and I started to cry with joy. This is where I’m supposed to be. It was a huge awakening.

Jessica’s entire wardrobe – this is roughly how much clothing Amanda took to BC with her for a week.

Do you have any advice for anyone that wants to live the van life?

Just take every day as it is. It’s just so simple to live this lifestyle. If you cannot get rid of your stuff, it might not be for you. Everything I buy now has to be good quality because I want to use it for a long time, I don’t want three jackets, I want one jacket that does all the things those three jackets can do, because I need the space. You just learn to accommodate what you can.

Security system installed by herself. This girl is the definition of independent.

Have you got one item, other than the van, that you could not live without?

[looks around] What could I not live without… I’m not sure… Every space is taken, everything I NEED is in here…

So it’s more a collective need?

Yes! Yes it is. Totally. You know, I’ve never had any problems in three years, but you never know, so for safety I installed security camera on the outside. At night maybe somebody sees me, so instead of having to lift a curtain I just turn on the TV And I can see what’s happening around the van. That’s pretty cool, so even when I drive if there’s a car accident, all the cameras are recording.

Custom handmade touring bike, hence the security cameras.

Have you learnt anything about yourself that you maybe wouldn’t have if you’d not taken on this lifestyle?

I can do more than I thought. Sometimes living in the world of the men, just going to a hardware store the men are like, overtaking, sometimes they aren’t nice. I’m trying to get pieces of wood to build my bed and they just cut in front of me and grab wood, as if I have no place there. This is my space too, don’t do that!

Since I’ve been in the van I’ve been single most of the time, I don’t feel like I need a relationship because it’s so good.

What would you do if you did meet someone, and they weren’t for the van life?

Well my last relationship was for six months, it wasn’t for him, so I said I’m not moving in with you. So… it only lasted six month [laughs]. He left for a work trip for two weeks and asked me to check over his place. It was wintertime so I thought, why not, you know it’s cold, but after the first week I started to have panic attacks. I felt stuck. I had to go back in my van! It was like… I was doing dishes, I was cleaning the carpets, here tidying is so quick. I just sweep the floor, everything sweep outside, it’s quick and I can go out and have fun.

Three-in-one shower, sink and toilet.

It doesn’t look lived out of, it’s so neat and tidy!

Yeah, I try! At first it was so white, I had to add the fabric with the colours because it was so beige and white. It needed life into it. I’ve installed LED lights all around, I had the coloured ones before but I didn’t like the white, it was blue and really hard on my eyes, so I’ve got the natural white now. I feel more badass than I did before!

It’s amazing that you’re strong enough to do this. I don’t think I could.

You never know, that’s the thing. The day I got the van I went at this cold turkey. I just moved in, no transition, and decided to just see how it goes.

Never mind the fire, there’s a TV and Playstation back there!

So if someone asked you advice on the initial change…

…just do it. When you move into a house you just do it? Right?

Jessica has installed a propane fire herself.

I installed the curtains all around for my privacy, and I installed another curtain for winter time here, so this is hot and up there is cold [indicates to the cab].

So how long did you live in here before installing the fire?

I think it was the first month of winter, it gets very cold at that time! When I did the van I removed all the walls at the back and insulated all the walls. It’s a three season RV, and three season RVs don’t have insulation. They’re all zero, not even the floor, they’re super cold. So next van is going to be a FOUR season RV! 

Deceivingly spacious!

Could you not fully insulate this one?

Well, you see the fridge is so close to the floor [it’s about an inch away from being flush to the floor], if I added more insulation I’m losing space. In the winter RVs all the grey tank and black tank and the fresh water are inside the RV, and in the three season they’re all underneath, exposed to the weather, so in the winter time everything freezes and I have to put antifreeze in everything and just use my water canister there, and just use baby wipes to wash because it’s so cold I never sweat. I try my best to use my van as much as possible.

Are you quite attached to the van? When it comes to upgrading it one day will that be hard?

No. I know I can modify it again. It would be nice to have a Sprinter van, the ones you can do yourself you know. Take the empty shell. Because this one is made for somebody that goes on vacation for like a weekend, it’s not made to be lived in full time.

Both bike and girl were in fact spotless.

So if you had a blank canvas van, what would you do differently to this?

Well the Sprinter van is a little bit taller than this, so I would have space for the bikes under the bed, could slide them in and I could have a couple of bikes instead of just one [Jessica has shown me the external bike rack, but keeps her bike inside for safety.] The door is a little bit bigger on those too, so I could have a bike stand for working on it. Make it like a little shop slash my home, that would be so sweet, because I want to start building wheels on my own. I wouldn’t need to drive to bike shops to ask if they need help, because I do that, I go to all the shops and see if they have wheels they need built. Yeah. That’d be cool, be nice to do it on my own. Travel, build wheels. Perfect. [laughs]

Bikeroom is the school Jessica teaches at in winter

What do you do for a living?

I have a main job, full time in the Summer doing bike mechanical work. In Winter time I teach bicycle mechanic classes. So I’m very steady in my job.

How long have you been a bike mechanic?

Five years

Monkey lights, because why not!

And how did you get into it?

A friend that owns a bike shop heard I was looking for work, this is after foster parenting and trying to find my new life. So he was like, ‘work for me, I’ll teach you everything you need to know!’

What is your most useful tool?

My hands.

What’s your pro tip for bike maintenance?

You don’t need to lube your chain so often you guys!

‘I love the freedom a bike can give you, and the community that comes with it.’

What’s your least favourite maintenance job?

My least favourite? They’re all fun, they all have they’re own challenge. I think my least favourite is the repeated jobs, doing the same thing over and ever. But I enjoy it all, and I teach, so every time I take something apart I learn again.

Having looked around her home and heard her story, she’s made the van life (or #vanlife) sound not only achievable, but so rewarding. Anyone who’s met Jessica will tell you that she’s constantly smiling, and she’s happy. Very happy. I was under the impression that living out of a van came with sacrifices, such as your career. But if anything she’s doing better than she would be had she remained settled in a home, she goes to work each day with a positive attitude, and she gets to do what she loves because her overheads aren’t so high.

I think I might need to upgrade my Caddy.

Are you saving up for anything?

Nope. I’m just living my life.


Disclosure

Amanda’s travel and accommodation were covered by Liv Bikes.

Comments (2)

  1. What a great story. Inspiring lady!

  2. Sounds like the kind of lifestyle change a lot of people would love. It takes balls to the plunge into the unknown. Respect to Jessica.

Leave a Reply